Welcome login | signup
Language en es fr

Forum Post: A Rebellious World or a New Dark Age?

Posted 5 years ago on May 8, 2012, 9:50 a.m. EST by PeterKropotkin (1050) from Oakland, CA
This content is user submitted and not an official statement

Posted by Noam Chomsky

If you had followed May Day protests in New York City in the mainstream media, you might hardly have noticed that they happened at all. The stories were generally tucked away, minimalist, focused on a few arrests, and spoke of “hundreds” of protesters in the streets, or maybe, if a reporter was feeling especially generous, a vague “thousands.” I did my own rough count on the largest of the Occupy protests that day. It left Union Square in the evening heading for the Wall Street area. I walked through the march front to back, figuring a couple of thousand loosely packed protesters to a block, and came up with a conservative estimate of 15,000 people. Maybe it wasn’t the biggest protest of all time, but sizeable enough given that Occupy, an organization without strong structures but once strongly located, had been (quite literally) pushed or even beaten out of its camps in Zuccotti Park and elsewhere across the country and toward oblivion.

It’s true that if you were checking out the Nation or Mother Jones, you would have gotten a more accurate sense of what was going on. Still, didn’t the great protest movement of our American moment (on a planet still in upheaval) deserve better that day? And no matter what you read in the mainstream, here’s what you would have known nothing about: this country is increasingly an armed camp and those marchers, remarkably relaxed and peaceable, were heading out into a concentration of police that was staggering and should have been startling.

Cops on motor scooters patroled the edges of the march, which was hemmed in by the usual moveable metal barricades. Police helicopters buzzed us at rooftop level. The police managed to alter the actual path of the marchers partway along and the police turnout -- I estimated up to 75 cops, three deep on some street corners doing nothing but collecting overtime -- was little short of incomprehensible.

Though Occupy marchers used to chant, “Whose streets, our streets!” it was never so. The streets belong to the police. If this is the democracy and freedom to dissent that American officials constantly proclaim to the world as one of our core values, then pinch me. If most of it is even legal, I’d be surprised. But when it comes to legality, we’re past all that. So any march on a sunny day is instantly imprisoned, and the protesters turned into a captive audience. When young people break out of the barricades and the serried ranks of cops and head in unexpected directions, it has the unmistakable feel of a jailbreak.

The fact is that, in a country whose security forces are up-armored to the teeth from the Mexican border to Union Square, just behind any set of marchers, you can feel the unease of those in power, edging up to fear. And no wonder. We remain in a “recovery” that’s spinning on a dime. Let the Eurozone falter and begin to fall, the Chinese housing bubble pop, or the Persian Gulf go up in flames, and hold onto your signs. Like Bloomberg in the Big Apple, many mayors sent in their paramilitaries (with a helping hand from the Department of Homeland Security) to get rid of the “troublemakers.” Only problem: their real problems run so much deeper and when the next “moment” comes, Occupy could look like a march in the park (which, in many inspirational ways, it largely was). In the meantime, the streets increasingly belong to the weaponized. Americans who protest blur into the “terrorists” who, since 9/11, have been the obsession of what passes for law enforcement.

If you want some sense of just what’s lurking under the surface of all the police drones and helicopters and tanks and even mini-drone submarines, what underpins our fragile, edgy moment, then check out this talk TomDispatch regular Noam Chomsky gave. It’s excerpted from his new book Occupy, with special thanks to its publisher Zuccotti Park Press. Tom

Plutonomy and the Precariat On the History of the U.S. Economy in Decline By Noam Chomsky

The Occupy movement has been an extremely exciting development. Unprecedented, in fact. There’s never been anything like it that I can think of. If the bonds and associations it has established can be sustained through a long, dark period ahead -- because victory won’t come quickly -- it could prove a significant moment in American history.

The fact that the Occupy movement is unprecedented is quite appropriate. After all, it’s an unprecedented era and has been so since the 1970s, which marked a major turning point in American history. For centuries, since the country began, it had been a developing society, and not always in very pretty ways. That’s another story, but the general progress was toward wealth, industrialization, development, and hope. There was a pretty constant expectation that it was going to go on like this. That was true even in very dark times.

I’m just old enough to remember the Great Depression. After the first few years, by the mid-1930s -- although the situation was objectively much harsher than it is today -- nevertheless, the spirit was quite different. There was a sense that “we’re gonna get out of it,” even among unemployed people, including a lot of my relatives, a sense that “it will get better.”

There was militant labor union organizing going on, especially from the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations). It was getting to the point of sit-down strikes, which are frightening to the business world -- you could see it in the business press at the time -- because a sit-down strike is just a step before taking over the factory and running it yourself. The idea of worker takeovers is something which is, incidentally, very much on the agenda today, and we should keep it in mind. Also New Deal legislation was beginning to come in as a result of popular pressure. Despite the hard times, there was a sense that, somehow, “we’re gonna get out of it.”

It’s quite different now. For many people in the United States, there’s a pervasive sense of hopelessness, sometimes despair. I think it’s quite new in American history. And it has an objective basis.

On the Working Class

In the 1930s, unemployed working people could anticipate that their jobs would come back. If you’re a worker in manufacturing today -- the current level of unemployment there is approximately like the Depression -- and current tendencies persist, those jobs aren’t going to come back.

The change took place in the 1970s. There are a lot of reasons for it. One of the underlying factors, discussed mainly by economic historian Robert Brenner, was the falling rate of profit in manufacturing. There were other factors. It led to major changes in the economy -- a reversal of several hundred years of progress towards industrialization and development that turned into a process of de-industrialization and de-development. Of course, manufacturing production continued overseas very profitably, but it’s no good for the work force.

Along with that came a significant shift of the economy from productive enterprise -- producing things people need or could use -- to financial manipulation. The financialization of the economy really took off at that time.

On Banks

Before the 1970s, banks were banks. They did what banks were supposed to do in a state capitalist economy: they took unused funds from your bank account, for example, and transferred them to some potentially useful purpose like helping a family buy a home or send a kid to college. That changed dramatically in the 1970s. Until then, there had been no financial crises since the Great Depression. The 1950s and 1960s had been a period of enormous growth, the highest in American history, maybe in economic history.

And it was egalitarian. The lowest quintile did about as well as the highest quintile. Lots of people moved into reasonable lifestyles -- what’s called the “middle class” here, the “working class” in other countries -- but it was real. And the 1960s accelerated it. The activism of those years, after a pretty dismal decade, really civilized the country in lots of ways that are permanent.

When the 1970s came along, there were sudden and sharp changes: de-industrialization, the off-shoring of production, and the shift to financial institutions, which grew enormously. I should say that, in the 1950s and 1960s, there was also the development of what several decades later became the high-tech economy: computers, the Internet, the IT Revolution developed substantially in the state sector.

The developments that took place during the 1970s set off a vicious cycle. It led to the concentration of wealth increasingly in the hands of the financial sector. This doesn’t benefit the economy -- it probably harms it and society -- but it did lead to a tremendous concentration of wealth.

Read the rest here.




Read the Rules
[-] 2 points by PeterKropotkin (1050) from Oakland, CA 5 years ago

Read it

[-] 1 points by notaneoliberal (2269) 5 years ago

Noam nails it.

[-] 1 points by francismjenkins (3713) 5 years ago

One of my favorite Bad Religion songs ... New Dark Ages. Basically, I think political reform can be effective, to a certain extent. If democrats take congress, the President wins, then it seems to me, our chances improve, but if that happens, it will also be important to double the pressure. We can accomplish restoration of Glass Steagall, an amendment to overturn Citizens United, laws that ban gifts to politicians, close the revolving door between politicians/their staffers & lobbying firms, more favorable treatment of cooperatives and employee owned companies, maybe a meaningful stimulus, more help for primary and higher education, mortgage/student loan relief (at least to some extent), expanded rights to recall elected officials, etc.

In the past, movements similar to OWS weren't able to achieve deep rooted social change, because they largely achieved their primary objective, and then went home. In general, they weren't informed by the anarchist intellectual tradition, and anarchists usually don't give up (which is what I think distinguishes OWS from many other movements, past and present).

[-] 2 points by PeterKropotkin (1050) from Oakland, CA 5 years ago

It's hard to say. I don't know if it would be better if the Democrats win or not as I believe they are in league with the elites as the Republlicans are. I get the feeling that we are on the way to catastrophe and we are not doing enough to prevent it.

I agree that those reforms would be a major triumph and I sure hope that OWS doesn't go away. Like Chomsky says in the article this could be the start of something very important.

[-] 0 points by jbgramps (159) 5 years ago

I think a SHTF situation will occur. It’s too late for political solutions. Politics is too little too late. I think a financial meltdown in the US is inevitable. The American people are too divided on just about everything to get anything done.

When the financial systems fail it will cause a true depression much larger than the 1930’s Great Depression. Small business failures by the thousands, 25%+ unemployment, break down in the rule of law and limited social services. Cold, scared, hungry people are dangerous. They will do whatever it takes to take care of their families. Think New Orleans during Katrina in a lot of cities.

During the 1930’s Great Depression our grandparents were much more self sufficient than people are today. In the 1930’s a family could take care of a themselves with a garden and a hunting rifle. The masses today are not self sufficient. People will gather together by race, beliefs and values for safety and security.

At that point ideologies become less important. Survival will be the name of the game. Democrats, republicans, the Tea Party and even OWS won’t have much clout. The public will support whoever can create jobs and safety for their families.

Related, depending on which numbers you believe, there are between 190 and 360 million guns in America today. Right this minute two major gun manufactures’ have a backlog of over a million orders each and suspended new orders. One of the top selling weapons right now is the AR-15 assault rifle. People are gearing up for something other than normal self defense. I think they see the writing on the wall.

I’m no fortune teller, but I see it happening somewhere along these lines. I’m not yet digging bunkers and hoarding food, but the time may come ….